Family Takes Petco to Trial After Infected Rat Killed Their Son

Published by Zachary Toliver.

A family is seeking justice, claiming that Petco’s gross negligence led to the death of their son.

In 2013, 10-year-old Aidan Pankey died after contracting rat-bite fever (RBF) from a rat he and his grandmother had purchased from Petco.

RBF is difficult to diagnose, and if left untreated, it can lead to numerous complications such as heart problems, joint issues, meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, and, as in Aidan’s case, death.

Petco knows the risks associated with RBF, and it’s well documented that customers have contracted the malady in the past. In the years leading up to Aidan’s death, there were 16 reported incidents of adults and children who contracted RBF from animals bought at Petco.

There is no humane way for Petco to sell rats.

It’s impossible to prevent RBF in the rats sold at Petco. The company’s own infectious disease expert testified that he doesn’t recommend having rats as companion animals because of potential cases of the illness. Yet Petco continues to sell them.

Even worse, Petco knew that rats from its suppliers were testing positive for RBF.

In the five months leading up to the day when the Pankey family purchased a rat, 56 rats from Barney’s Pets—the animal supplier that sold Petco the infected rat—tested positive for RBF at the facility. Petco doesn’t test rats before selling them, apparently because the cost of doing so would exceed the profit that the corporate giant makes on selling these intelligent, sensitive animals (often as “snake food”).

Five eyewitness investigations of animal dealers in Petco’s supply chain have repeatedly revealed filthy, abusive conditions for animals.

Animals sold in Petco stores come from massive breeding mills (that is, if they’re not taken from their native habitats), so it’s no surprise that Barney’s housed and sold infected rats. Petco’s attorney herself stated that it’s not possible to breed rats for the pet industry in conditions sterile enough to prevent RBF from spreading.

During our investigation into a then-Petco animal supplier, Holmes Farm, a PETA eyewitness documented that thousands of animals were confined to plastic bins stacked in shelving units like filing cabinet drawers.

PETA’s observer never saw any animals receive veterinary care at the facility, despite repeatedly alerting the manager to obviously sick and injured individuals. Instead, workers piled dozens of animals—ranging from rats and gerbils to guinea pigs and even a rabbit—at a time into a feces-smeared cooler and crudely gassed them with carbon dioxide. Their screams could be heard across the room.

Video footage and photos captured by PETA’s eyewitness at Sun Pet Ltd.—a wholesale animal dealer that was sending animals to numerous Petco locations during the investigation—show the widespread suffering of hundreds of birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, and rats in Sun Pet’s enormous warehouses. In more than three months of employment, not once did the eyewitness see anyone from Petco or any other store’s corporate offices inspect Sun Pet’s facility.

In addition to the misery of confinement to extremely crowded containers, which forces animals to eat, sleep, urinate, and defecate all in the same space, PETA’s observer recorded the violent killing and abusive handling of hundreds of animals. One worker was caught bagging live hamsters and bashing them against a table.

What You Can Do

Never buy an animal from a store. Do right by animals and shop only at supply stores that don’t sell live animals. Call on Petco to stop selling all animals, and pledge not to buy anything from its stores until it does.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind